This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Finding Award Availability

Yesterday, we looked to make sure that Lisa had enough points to fly from Ottawa or Montreal to Milan, Italy with an open jaw return from Geneva.

Today, we will look at finding route options so that we can begin to search for availability.

Routes to Milan

The first thing that I do with my search is to go to the Star Alliance Route Map (I published a post about how to use it a few weeks ago).

What I do is work backwards.  First I plug in Milan into the “Leaving From” field under the Destinations menu item.


There are two airports in Milan; Linate and Malpensa, both of which handle international travel with Malpensa (MXP) being the larger of the two airports.  In either case, we want to search for flights into both airports.


We can see here that there are 37 routes that service Milan, with 33 of them into MXP so it’s more than likely the flights that we try to find availability for will be into MPX.

Direct Flight Options

Just like everyone else in their right mind, I like to have as direct a flight as possible but one could certainly argue that if the hard and soft product of the flight are good, you may want to stay on board a little longer.  For this example, let’s try to find the most direct routing as possible.

Based on the map and the listing of connecting airports, we see that there are two airports that service Milan from North America:

  • Toronto (YYZ) to Milan (MXP) with Air Canada
  • New York (EWR) to Milan (MXP) on United Airlines

For my money, neither of those options are appealing for a couple of reasons.  The Toronto to Milan route with Air Canada will have high fuel surcharges which makes the price of an award ticket hard to swallow, though some would pay the fuel surcharge for the convenience.  I personally would not because there are plenty of other good options.

The New York to Milan route is also currently unappealing due to the terrible Business Class product that United currently features.  Now keep in mind that on December 1st, 2016, United is set to unveil their Polaris product in Business Class, which certainly looks appealing and according to the site, the Polaris product is scheduled for 777-300ERs first, followed by 787-10s, A350-1000s, 767-300s and 777-200s in that order.  The EWR-MXP route is currently operated with a 767-300 and a 767-400 so I do not expect that the planes will be retrofitted with the new product by the time Lisa wants to fly and without any reviews, I would keep this option on the backburner.  One very positive note about flying on United is that there are no fuel or carrier surcharges, which should make the ticket inexpensive.

Seeing as Lisa is departing from either Ottawa or Montreal, she would have to take a flight to either Toronto or New York to begin with so at the very minimum, we are talking about at least 1 connection to get to Milan.

Other Connection Options

Looking at the Star Alliance route listing, we can see some interesting routes that have direct flights into Milan.  They are:

  • Brussels (BRU) to Milan (MXP) on Brussels Airlines (SN)
  • Copenhagen (CPH) to Milan (MXP) on SAS
  • Istanbul (IST) to Milan (MXP) on Turkish Airlines
  • Stockholm (ARN) to Milan (MXP) on SAS
  • Zurich (ZRH) to Milan (MXP) on Swiss

These routes were chosen because they are flown by airlines that do not charge fuel surcharge while also representing excellent hard and soft products (excellent seats, excellent food, excellent service, excellent lounge, etc.).

Now if we look into each of the routes separately, we want to see if any of these routes have a direct flight from either Ottawa or Montreal.


What we want to do here is to find all routes that Brussels Airlines (SN) offers direct into Brussels (BRU) to see if there is anything that is close to Ottawa or Montreal.  To make things simple, we specify that we are leaving from Brussels and want to fly Brussels Airlines on the Star Alliance Route Map.  We do this because in a lot of cases, Air Canada will be shown as an option but because of the fact they charge a high fuel surcharge, we would like to avoid them if we can.


And with that search we return this map:


As you can see, there are direct flights from North America to BRU on SN from Toronto (YYZ), New York (JFK) and Washington, DC (IAD).

Based on experience, I know that there are no flights from Ottawa or Montreal to JFK on Star Alliance carriers but there are routes from both Ottawa (YOW) and Montreal (YUL) to Washington on United.  We also know that there are flight from both Ottawa and Montreal to Toronto on Air Canada.  We aren’t terribly concerned about fuel/carrier surcharge from Ottawa or Montreal into Toronto because the leg is quite short and depending on some complicated calculations in the background, fuel surcharge may not even be charged for the leg.

Based on this information, we can derive that the following routes would work to get to Milan:


While these routes work, there are too many connections for my liking.  Let’s move on but keep these routes in mind as we may need to use them if we can’t find availability on a more direct route.

As a homework exercise, you might want to find the routings from Copenhagen, Istanbul, Stockholm and Zurich to get used to working with the Star Alliance Route Map.

More Direct Routes

Now this is where experience comes in.  I can’t really teach you this, you just need to start to learn the routes to understand the most efficient way to get to your destination.  I will not break down each of the other connection option routes due to time but I will use my experience to find routes that will serve as the best option for Lisa.

The first thing we should do is eliminate Ottawa as a starting point.  If we look at Ottawa’s route map, we can quickly see that it isn’t serviced internationally by any airline other than Air Canada and as we talked about earlier, we want to avoid them due to the fuel surcharge aspect of their award ticketing price.


That leaves Montreal as our starting point.

Based on this information, we can now look to see direct routes out of Montreal that have a direct flight to MXP are:

  • Brussels (BRU)
    • Does not work – serviced by Air Canada which has fuel surcharge
  • Copenhagen (CPH)
    • Does not work.  No direct flight from Montreal
  • Istanbul (IST)
    • Winner winner, chicken dinner.  Direct flight from Montreal with Turkish Airlines (no fuel surcharge)
  • Stockholm (ARN)
    • Does not work – No direct flight from Montreal
  • Zurich (ZRH)
    • Another winner!  Direct flight from Montreal with Swiss Airlines (no fuel surcharge)

So here are the routes that we will investigate tomorrow as the outbound flight:

YUL-IST-MXP on Turkish Airlines
YUL-ZRH-MXP on Swiss Airlines

Return from Geneva

Now that we have an idea of how to get to Milan, let’s explore how we can get Lisa from Geneva to Montreal.

It is unclear if Lisa is looking to find alternative transportation from Milan to Geneva like a lovely train ride or a road trip but let’s assume that she wants to find her own way to Geneva.  Truth be told, we can find her a way to get to Geneva from Milan but it turns out that this is a route that is not serviced by any airline.  For cities this close together, it would suck to have to connect so I will assume it is an open jaw award.

Geneva (GVA) to Montreal (YUL)

Geneva is an interesting airport in that it there are some routes that might work but another option is to take a quick flight (45 minutes) to Zurich to get back to Montreal.  Seeing as we’re here, let’s look at the Geneva flights:

  • Geneva (GVA) to Istanbul (IST) on Turkish (TK)
  • Geneva (GVA) to Montreal (YUL) on Air Canada (AC)
  • Geneva (GVA) to New York (EWR) on United (UA)
  • Geneva (GVA) to New York (JFK) on Swiss (LX)
  • Geneva (GVA) to Washington, DC (IAD) on United (UA)
  • Geneva (GVA) to Zurich (ZRH) on Swiss (LX)

The only two routes that I would personally be interested in are the GVA-IST-YUL on TK route and the GVA-ZRH-YUL route.  We know from the original search that there is a direct flight from IST-YUL on TK and a direct flight from ZRH-YUL on LX.  From personal experience on Turkish Airlines, I can attest that it is a great airline and the lounge is top notch and Swiss Airlines often gets high praise for their Business Class product.  In either case, both would be excellent options although, Istanbul is a further out so it really depends on whether or not flight times matter to Lisa and whether or not there is availability.

The other routes involve United (not great hard or soft product but may be good if these routes get the Polaris product) and Air Canada (high fuel surcharge).  The only other route that is of interest is GVA-JFK on Swiss (LX) but from the previous search, we know that there are no direct flights from JFK to either Montreal (YUL) or Ottawa (YOW).  I would hate to have Lisa lug her bags around from JFK to EWR if she doesn’t have to.

So the route back would likely use one of the following routes:

GVA-IST-YUL on Turkish Airlines
GVA-ZRH-YUL on Swiss Airlines

Initial Search

Based on the legwork we did above, we can now look for the following routes for Lisa:

YUL-IST-MXP on Turkish Airlines
YUL-ZRH-MXP on Swiss Airlines

GVA-IST-YUL on Turkish Airlines
GVA-ZRH-YUL on Swiss Airlines

Now keep in mind that the above are the most ideal routes for us to search but that doesn’t mean that there will be availability but it gives us a starting point to begin our search.

With the legwork that we did, we now know that if we need to find another connection due to lack of availability, we now have an idea of where we should search.

Tomorrow’s Lesson

Tomorrow, I will show you how to find whether there is availability for the above routes and how to adapt if we can’t find the availability.

I know this is a lot of information but I can promise you that if you look at these routings every once in a while and play with the Star Alliance Routing Map, you will start to learn the ins and outs of routing so you can do all of the above in your head.

The learning curve is certainly steep but I hope that this flattens it out for you a bit.  To me, this part is truly one of the most difficult things to master because if you don’t know what you are looking for, you can easily get lost in the rabbit hole.  Once you have routes that you know you can search, you can dramatically reduce your search time.

If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments and I will address them directly.

Until tomorrow.






Series Navigation<< Finding Award Availability – Part 1 – Contest WinnerFinding Award Availability – Part 3 – Finding Availability >>
Jayce is the founder of PointsNerd, and avid traveller and a teacher by nature. He prides himself on flattening the learning curve through step-by-step guides because everyone needs to start somewhere.


  1. Hi there,

    I live in YOW but we often fly out of YUL since its not such a issue for u as its nearby. Now I was wondering I f you could help me figure out certain routes I should look into since I’m sure you know them off the top of your head.

    Roundtrip to Rome
    Roundtrip to TLV

    Would Istanbul be the best for both if we were flexible? what else would you suggest.

    Thanks in advance!

    • Hi Dave,

      THanks for your comment and question.

      As I had mentioned when searching for Lisa’s award, Ottawa (YOW) isn’t a great place because all international flights are serviced by Air Canada (high YQ) so you are left with either going to Montreal or Toronto. Either one would allow for you to get to Europe on great airlines with low YQ. As part of your award ticket, the YOW-YUL/YYZ portion would be included in the points cost of the ticket so it’s really not a big deal.

      For your destinations, you might want to consider the following:

      YUL-ZRH-FCO on Swiss (LX)
      YUL-IST-FCO on Turkish (TK)
      YYZ-IST-FCO on Turkish (TK)
      YYZ-BRU-FCO on Brussels (SN)
      YUL-ORD-FCO on United (UA)

      YUL-ZRH-TLV on Swiss (LX)
      YUL-IST-TLV on Turkish (TK)
      YYZ-IST-TLV on Turkish (TK)
      YYZ-ADD-TLV on Ethiopian (ET)
      YYZ-BRU-TLV on Brussels (SN)

      Good luck!


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